Partner Stories: Meet Megan from the University of Toronto

At Cookhouse Labs, we work closely with young talent from around the world to introduce a fresh perspective to real industry challenges. One of our favorite (and longest!) partnerships is with the University of Toronto — here’s an insight into our collaborations with Megan Whitehead-Douglas, Assistant Manager, Employer Relations & Career Development. 

Megan, thank you for joining us today! Before we dive into the story behind our collaboration, let’s start with a quick introduction of yourself and your role at UoT. 

I’ve worked at the University of Toronto for more than 14 years, and I’ve been in the Department of Statistical Sciences for almost three years. In my role as Assistant Manager, Employer Relations and Career Development, I get to support students as they navigate the world of work and career development and help them with their next steps once they decide what they would like to do. 

Thank you for that intro! So, part of this career development work is our partnership, where your students can work closely with insurance professionals within our community, which is always a pleasure for us. Could you speak more about how the collaboration began? 

I first met Ibeth and Sven at the downtown Toronto Lab space, somewhere in the Fall of 2019. They had reached out to me at the department to see how we could collaborate and invited me to visit the space so they could give me some background on the Lab. I was lucky to also be invited to their holiday party, and I still have the apron they gave me as a holiday gift! They began to save room for undergraduate students at their innovation events to aid the students in their career development. I really appreciated that gesture, especially because I was new in my role and trying to find ways to engage students. Our partnership has just grown from there, and the students now participate in many of the other activities you offer, such as the Summer Bootcamp. 

Oh wow, what a great story! Since then, how has this partnership evolved and improved? 

At the beginning of any collaboration, you’re trying to understand what the other party is about and build trust. Now we have a better sense of just all the amazing things that Cookhouse is doing to make insurance relevant and inclusive, which is onboard with how we want our students to work in the world. Your team has a good grasp of the industry and what employers want.  

The improvement is that it feels like we’ve known each other for a long time, because it’s so easy to work with each other. The partnership has evolved in the sense that we now have a better understanding of what each group can do, and we know how to use our skills to support students even better. 

After these activities and events, what type of feedback have you received from students? 

They’ve always enjoyed the events! Any time a student has had the opportunity to participate — nothing but positive comments. What they’re most surprised about is what Ibeth and the team can get out of them. Students are pleasantly surprised to learn that when they trust themselves and the Design Thinking process, they can practice clearer and more empathetic thinking. They are more creative than they expect, and they enjoy the experience, because they get to exercise their technical skills and improve upon their communication and other soft skills that employers demand.  

Yes, they get to put a hackathon on their resume, for example. The part I hear most about is how much they learn about themselves in the process, and that’s really helpful too. This is a key component of experiential learning, which is where our department and the university as a whole is headed. 

Happy to hear that you received that kind of feedback! Coming to your own perspective now; when you look back, what is your favorite memory from this collaboration? 

I always leave meetings with the Cookhouse team with a smile on my face and ideas flowing in my head, so it’s tough to pick a favorite. If I can be sneaky, I have a tie between two.  

The first meeting was fantastic. Not only were we inspired by your space, but I had also brought along a student worker who the team was so welcoming and respectful towards, which stood out to me.  

The second memory is of the recent Summer Bootcamp. Not only from a logistical sense, but also working with your team is very pleasant. I know everything will be handled professionally. I know it takes a lot of work, so thank you! Seeing the journey of the students and what they came up with while working with amazing mentors was just heartwarming, and you could tell how much it meant to them. It made me proud of them and proud of the program! 

We really enjoy working with you too! Final question: Is there anything you would like to add? 

I just want to thank the Cookhouse team. The ideas that come out of the Lab are incredible and the enthusiasm is infectious. We enjoy playing in your space. This is a collaboration that I hope we can continue for a really long time! 

Megan, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. We enjoy collaborating with you and University of Toronto, and can’t wait to see the exciting solutions that come out of our upcoming Bootcamp! 

The Ultimate SummerHack 2022 Guide

It’s almost time to kickoff SummerHack 2022: Global Insurance Design Thinking Ideathon!  

This global event brings together InsurTech experts and innovators from all over the world for 2 days of exciting insurance innovation and friendly competition. Our teams will tackle challenges related to the theme “Artificial Intelligence”, and under the guidance and support of our Certified Innovation Experts, use Design Thinking to develop creative solutions to present to our esteemed panel of judges at the Final Pitch Event

To help you prepare for our upcoming virtual Ideathon, we’ve put together this quick guide on how to disrupt the insurance industry using Design Thinking in time for the big deadline! 

Before We Begin 

If you’re new to Design Thinking, visit “Introduction to Design Thinking”, where we describe the concept behind the methodology and the stages involved. 

How to Use Design Thinking at SummerHack 2022 

While the Design Thinking stages may sound time-consuming, it’s possible to walk through each of them within a short timeframe. As a reminder, our Innovation Team will be available via regular check-in calls during the event to answer any questions and provide support on how to follow Design Thinking to develop impactful solutions. Please note that each check-in calls will be held between 9 AM to 5 PM in three different time zones — Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), Central European Summer Time (CEST), and Singapore Time (SGT). 

So, how can you use Design Thinking to create a winning solution in just 2 days

Below, we share a quick guide on how you can structure your time according to the stages in the Design Thinking methodology to help you conquer SummerHack 2022 and blow our judges away! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022  
10:45 AM – Empathize 

At 10:00 AM, the Cookhouse Labs team will announce our “Artificial Intelligence” challenges and you will have 2 days to create your solution for your chosen challenge! 

You will have 45 minutes to discuss the challenge statements with your team and select 1 that you will tackle over the course of 2 days.

After you select your challenge, your Design Thinking journey begins with the first stage, Empathize. This is where you will begin to understand your target group, which can be done in 2 ways: internet research and interviews with your persona. You can’t create a customer-centric solution without putting yourself in the shoes of the customer, and a good way to do this is to speak directly with the potential customer and listen

Deliverables: By the end of this stage, you will have: 

  • An Empathy Map to help you visualize how the user thinks/feels and documents their pain points 
  • Your Persona, a character that represents the type of customer/user of your solution. For example, in our last project about mitigating small business bankruptcy, we created the persona of Fiona, a small business owner in Toronto  

1st Check-In: Our Innovation Experts will be available from 10:45 AM to 11:15 AM! 
 

2:00 PM – Define 

The next stage focuses on constructing a point of view based on the user’s needs. Here, you will take time to reflect on what the user has shared with you and to visualize their experience. By doing so, you can define what problem you are trying to solve based on your persona’s main needs and pain points, which will help you shape a better experience for the user. 

Deliverables: By the end of this stage, you will have: 

  • Journey Map, which is a narrative of your user’s steps to accomplish a specific goal. This is mapped out in 2 layers: a timeline of the user’s actions and their thoughts/emotions while completing each task. You want to identify areas where the user encounters obstacles or barriers along their journey 
  • How Might We (HMW) statement, a brief statement presented in form of a question that clarifies the actual problem you are focusing on based on the Journey Map and identifies the benefits and gains the solution. In the same project about bankruptcy mitigation, our team created 20 HMW statements and selected, “How might we reduce the risk of financial impact of current economic events?” and as they moved through interviews and customer journey the focus of their project became “How might we use the Internet of Things to assist small business owners with their Financial management, improve profitability and reduce bankruptcy?”. (Notice the benefits and gains in bold)

2nd Check-In: Our Innovation Experts will be available from 2:00 PM to 2:30 PM! 
 

4:30 PM – Design 

After selecting a single HMW statement to focus on, it’s time to ideate! This stage is all about connecting to your inner child and using your imagination to come up with multiple solutions to the problem your team identified. Quantity is important here, so remember to list as many possibilities as you can! 

Deliverables: By the end of this stage, you will have: 

  • Multiple possible solutions to tackle the challenge in various timeframes 
  • chosen idea to begin prototyping! 

3rd Check-In: Our Innovation Experts will be available from 4:30 PM to 5:00 PM! 

5 PM – Networking

At the end of Day 1, participants are invited to join us for an hour of networking with other innovators and our jury panel!


 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022  
11:00 AM – Create 

From 9 AM to 11 AM, you will have time to continue the Design phase and ideate as many solutions as possible to your chosen challenge.

Once your team has voted on a winning idea, you are now ready to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). You will begin by creating a low-fidelity prototype, which could take the form of a sketch, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation.  

Deliverables: By the end of this stage, you will have: 

  • sketch of your Lo-Fi prototype to help visualize and test the solution 

4th Check-In: Our Innovation Experts will be available from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM! 

 
2:30 PM – Presentation

In a little over 2 hours, you will submit your final solution!  

At this time, you should begin to practice your pitch and prepare any materials required (such as PowerPoint slides). Remember, you will have to submit a 4-minute video of your pitch to play for our panel of judges, who will ask you follow-up questions right after!  

Deliverables: By the end of this stage, you will have: 

  • Submitted your pitch video on our platform, including a brief description and all supporting materials 
  • Prepared for questions from our judges at our Final Pitch Event beginning at 8:00 AM EDT 

5th Check-In: Our Innovation Experts will be available from 2:30 PM to 3 PM! 

5 PM – Networking

At the end of Day 2, we will hold another open networking session for participants and judges to come together to celebrate crossing the finish line!


 

To provide even further support, our Innovation Team has prepared an Introduction to Design Thinking Masterclass series to introduce you to the methodology and help you prepare before the event. On the day of the event, you will have access to our experts during the innovation check-in sessions where you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you have after watching the Masterclasses.

And with that, you are now ready to disrupt the insurance industry!  

We wish all our teams the best of luck for SummerHack 2022! We invite our community members to join the Final Pitch Event on Thursday, May 12th at 8:00 AM EDT to see the exciting solutions our teams of insurers, startups, and student innovators develop.  

To receive an invite, please register here. 

Cookhouse Labs is Back with Another Exciting Global Insurance Innovation Ideathon! 

Toronto, Canada, March 21, 2022 — msg global solution’s Cookhouse Labs, a gobal leader in InsurTech collaboration, co-creation and innovation, announced today that its infamous SummerHack will return for the 3rd year in a row. 

For the past 5 years, Cookhouse Labs has worked diligently to create a community of insurance, reinsurance, brokers, startups, vendors and academia from around the globe to co-create and develop solutions to tackle current and future challenges of the insurance industry. As part of this mission, the innovation hub frequently hosts wide-scale ideathons and co-creation projects, such as SummerHack, StudentHack (in collaboration with the Insurance Institute of Canada), and student bootcamps in partnership with local and international universities.  

“SummerHack gives insurers around the world an opportunity to play in our innovation sandbox for 2 days. The atmosphere is always full of high energy and creativity, and by the end of this event, everyone walks away feeling inspired and proud of the real business solutions they created in such a short time!” 

Sven Roehl, Co-Founder of Cookhouse Labs and Head of Innovation at msg global solutions

Among some of the exciting and creative solutions that result from these events is a Smart tooth that aims to lower health insurance premiums, an insurance awareness campaign that leverages everyday bread purchases, and an insurance product for those in the gig economy (such as ride-share drivers).  

This year’s theme centers on “Artificial Intelligence in Insurance” — a nod towards the powerful technology that is transforming areas across the global insurance industry and helping insurers make meaningful changes to elevate their customer experience. With the potential to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and predict customer needs well in advance, there are plenty of applications and ideas expected out of this year’s competitive event. 

Over 100 global participants typically race against the clock in these ideathons to claim the winner title, determined by a jury panel of esteemed industry leaders from top organizations, such as AXA, SCOR, and HSBC. The event is held in 3 different time zones to welcome participants from the Americas, EMEA, and APAC, adding an especially global dimension to this fast-paced competition. 

“These types of events generate new ideas that have legs to stand on. Hackathons, innovation labs, and incubators created a dedicated space to foster and promote these ideas, which can then be pitched to those working in sectors in need of disruption. Alone, you may not have the support you need to develop your idea, but these types of events help creative and diverse ideas move forward.” 

Manisha Dias, Vice President – Strategic Partnerships, SCOR
(During an interview about her experience as a SummerHack judge)

Participants of this year’s SummerHack can expect another action-packed event, complete with brand-new challenges inspired by the Artificial Intelligence theme and fantastic prizes for the top teams! 

For media, partnership, or collaboration enquires, contact Insiya Meherally, Community Manager at Insiya.Meherally@cookhouselabs.com.   

To find out more about Cookhouse Labs and how you can get involved in this year’s competition, click here.

About Cookhouse Labs  

Inspired by a test kitchen, Cookhouse Labs is a collaborative space for innovative chefs, Tastemakers and taste-testers to create recipes, infuse flavours, and experiment beyond boundaries. Our community of insurance innovators and insurtech experts is the key ingredient in the ideation process, empowering and integrating a global collection of ideas with Design Thinking to serve innovation in the insurance industry, based on a paid membership model. To learn more about Cookhouse Labs, visit: www.cookhouselabs.com.  

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 7]

In the final part of our series, I sat down with Zain Ibrahim, a SummerHack 2021 judge and Executive Director and COO at EFU Life in Pakistan. We discussed Zain’s experience as a first-time judge and participant, highlights from the event, and his advice for teams looking to win at next year’s SummerHack 2022!

Check out a snippet of our interview with SummerHack 2021 Judge, Zain Ibrahim!

Zain, thank you for joining us both as a judge and participant this year! We’re curious to know, what inspired you to get super involved with the event?

I was recommended by a previous colleague who knew from firsthand experience about the appetite of our company to digitalize and innovate within our industry. I was then approached by Cookhouse Labs, of course, and later found out that I had connected with Jason (Cookhouse Labs’ partner in China) beforehand, so I felt at home.

As a judge and as a participant, you have two different perspectives to share with us. Let’s start with the participant side; What is something about the participant experience that you wish more judges and audience members knew?

Above everything, it taught me to empathize more. As a participant, I gained an understanding of how the whole process works, and I was able to relate more to the teams and what they were trying to achieve. In a global event, teams are from various backgrounds, and it would better serve the judges if they understood the markets the teams are coming from and what challenges they are trying to solve within their regions.

On the other hand, what is something that you wish participants understood better from a judge’s point of view?

It’s all about simplicity. All beautiful things start simple, and judges are not looking for complicated solutions. For every solution we looked at, we asked, “What’s the simple idea here?” to help us understand what the team was trying to solve. So, the key is simplicity.

Staying on the topic of looking at solutions, which pitch did you find memorable and more importantly, why was it memorable for you?

Both the winner and runner-up were amazing! The pitch deck that caught my eye most belonged to the winner, and I’ll tell you why. They took on a difficult challenge and presented it in a uniquely creative way. I was really impressed by the practical solution and the way they executed the pitch.

After seeing all of these pitches and other pitches you’ve seen in your profession, what are three key ingredients that make a successful pitch?

The first one would have to be passion, specifically for the problem that you’re trying to solve. Without that, you will not be able to put your heart into finding the solution, and without that, you won’t be able to come up with a truly innovative pitch.

Another ingredient would be practicality, because while you may come up with an out-of-the-box solution, you need to be mindful of the fact that your innovative solutions should be practical, executable, and should make business sense.

The final ingredient would be the presentation video. You can tell when a team allocates a significant amount of time to the content and to the idea when you see the actual presentation video, and this differentiates the good ones versus the really good ones.

So, what advice would you offer teams for next year?

Practice more. As a team, it’s always better to practice your presentation several times beforehand and even preempt some of the questions that the judges will ask, because then you’ll be able to better handle the questions and everything will look flawless.

Drawing on your experience as both a participant and as a judge one more time, how would you describe your overall experience at SummerHack?

One word: Amazing. The best thing about participating in such an event is that we got to step away from our everyday tasks and unlearn everything we knew about innovation. It was our first time learning about the Design Thinking methodology, and when we were chatting about our experiences afterwards, you could tell that it inspired an innovative mindset in all of us. Now we ask, “Is there a better way to manage this?” in our day-to-day tasks.

I’m really impressed by the flawless management of the event. The team had to manage 12 hours of time differences and they did a tremendous job. All the prep work was given to us and we had meetings before the event, where we were told what to do and what to expect. Even the technical support, I remember, was incredible. We had trouble at the very last minute in uploading our pitch video late at night, and we asked for help. We were helped immediately, and so to Cookhouse Labs, thank you for the amazing management.

Thank you for the kind words! A final question for you: How can an event like SummerHack help #MakeInsuranceBetter for the global community?

Such an event fosters innovative thinking, right? And innovative thinking means thinking differently for different markets. An event like this helps in the local context, because you see global companies talking about challenges and solutions that are relevant to specific markets, but the way they are handling those challenges could in some way, shape, or form be applicable to another market. That’s the beauty of having a global event: You can learn a lot about how others are tackling challenges around the world and apply it to a local challenge. There’s always something you can take away from these events.

Zain, thank you so much for sharing your insights and valuable advice with our community. We wish you all the best and hope to see you and Team EFU Life again at SummerHack 2022!

Want to stay informed about how you can join our upcoming SummerHack 2022? Join our mailing list here and receive updates straight to your inbox!

Recap: Our First Hybrid Event ft. University of Amsterdam!

Earlier this month, we ran our first-ever hybrid event in our Toronto Lab space! 

We were delighted to host an in-house day on November 3rd for a large group of students from the University of Amsterdam as part of the VSAE International Study Project 2021, where Actuarial and Econometrics students visited Toronto for a week to immerse themselves in the Canadian business world. 

Our team was very excited to welcome them — check out how we prepared the Lab space for our special guests below! 

The Setup

We had fun setting up the Lab for our special guests from The Netherlands!

As we continue to grow internationally, our team has been exploring opportunities to run hybrid events that allow participants to join both in-person and virtually. In 2020, we even invited students from the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg-Schweinfurt, Germany (FHWS) to develop their own solution for a hybrid event model. Check out the cool robotic solution they came up with here

To test out our hybrid concept, our Lead Innovation Coach, Ibeth Ramos, led the day’s events remotely, while our Co-Founder Sven Roehl and our intern Niklas Bortzler were present in the Lab to greet the students and facilitate the on-ground activities. 

The Welcome

The student group arrived promptly at 9 AM and received a warm welcome from our in-house team. After they found their nametags and poured themselves a hot cup of coffee, the group settled in the main Lab space to begin their exciting day with us. 

Our Co-Founder Sven gave a brief introduction of Cookhouse Labs and msg global solutions, our parent company. Director of Cookhouse Labs Utrecht (The Netherlands), Rian de Heer, joined the introduction virtually from France to provide more insight into msg global solutions, beginning with the company’s origins in 1980 and how it grew to over 8500 employees in 28 countries today.  

Sven continued his presentation with a deeper dive into the history of the insurance industry, sharing challenges along the way and how Cookhouse Labs is playing a part to #MakeInsuranceBetter by facilitating innovation, collaboration, and co-creation. 

The Introduction

After a quick coffee break, Coach Ibeth gave the students a virtual introduction to Design Thinking, walking them through the fundamentals of the human-centered innovation methodology. The students were also introduced to her lovely puppies, who joined the session briefly as well! Then, they set off for a quick lunch break before they began to apply their learnings in a short sprint. 

The Sprint

The students were split into 4 teams and invited to tackle the challenge of how the insurance industry can help combat climate change. They began the first step of Design Thinking: Empathy, which required them to learn about current perspectives on insurance and climate change.  

During step two, Define, they mapped out their findings on a whiteboard empathy map. Using these key insights, the student teams defined a persona and created a journey map. For example, one team chose the persona of a 28-year-old salesperson who was inspired by a climate change documentary and mapped out the persona’s experience of getting in touch with their insurer to see how the organization could make a difference. 

Coach Ibeth continued to guide the teams, visiting each room virtually and interacting with the students as they moved to the next step, Design. The students ideated solutions they could develop within various timeframes, such as 1 week and 1 month.  

After voting on the top idea to develop, the teams dove into the next step, Create. Coach Ibeth had prepared special prototyping boxes for the students the day before their visit, with various fun materials to use during this stage, such as feathers, stickers, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks. She invited their inner child to come out and play, providing the space for them to express creativity and have fun. 

During the final step, Test, the teams presented their prototypes to each other, such as an information app and smartwatch to help customers monitor their carbon footprint. The presentations were creative, fun, and all unique — we were absolutely blown away!  

The Wrap-Up

As the clock struck 4:30 PM, we began to wrap up our in-house day with positive feedback and final comments. Co-Founder Sven and Coach Ibeth encouraged the students to always trust the Design Thinking process and to stay connected to our global community by joining future opportunities to co-create with insurance thought leaders. Our team then presented the students with special gifts ahead of the holiday season, and the whole group posed for a few photos before a little networking and final goodbyes. 

Before we concluded the day, we asked Michelle Mutsaers, who is a board member of the VSAE, to describe the in-house day experience: 

“During the in-house at Cookhouse Labs, our students learned to solve problems by using more creative and out-of-the-box thinking. The day was well-balanced with a short theoretical part and after that, immediately using this in practice. In short, it was a highly educational and fun day!” 

— Michelle Mutsaers, Board Member on the International Study Project Committee 2021 

A big thank-you to VSAE for spending a day in our innovation space, and to msg global solutions Canada for being the sponsor for the day! We enjoyed meeting and hosting the students and look forward to seeing all of you continue to achieve big things in the near future! 

Want to be the first to hear about our next young talent event? Join our community and receive updates directly to your inbox! 

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 6]

In the next part of our series, I sat down with Si XIe, Head of Financial Planning and Insights at HSBC Pinnacle Venture and a 2-time ideathon Judge (SummerHack 2020 and 2021). We discussed the highlights of this year’s global competition, the ingredients to a great pitch, and what teams at SummerHack 2022 can do to win our big prize!

Check out a snippet of our interview with SummerHack 2021 Judge, Si Xie!

Si, thank you for your continuous support of our global Design Thinking ideathons! We’re curious to know, what inspired you to return to the jury panel this year?

First and foremost, the energy and creativity from the participants as they worked together to solve a real industry challenge. I often see many unconventional ideas at these events that even I, as a long-term participant, would not have dreamt about. With my experience over the last two years of helping HSBC set up a digitally enabled financial planning business from the ground up, I have a lot of appreciation for thinking differently.

Speaking of perspectives and thinking differently, you have the unique experience of being both a participant at one of our ideathons and a judge at two more. What is the one thing about the participant experience that you wish that judges and audience members knew more about?

Innovation is like a muscle that you need to constantly exercise to become better and stronger at it. Design Thinking is a great methodology that has proven to be successful. However, this process does require many iterations, and can feel quite unnatural and difficult at first — at least, it was for me initially. No challenge is easy, and sometimes things don’t go well during the journey, but I was also amazed at the result. As a judge, I would want fellow judges and audience members to appreciate how much work the participant has to do during the event.

Now, using your judge lens, what do you wish that participants knew about the judge’s perspective in these events?

It’s equally challenging for the judges, and we often deliberate for long periods of time to decide on the winner. So, if your idea did not win, it does not mean that is not a great idea. There can only be one winning solution, but we see so many great ideas from the teams.

That’s a very valuable insight for our participants! Staying with your judge lens, what do you enjoy most about being on the panel of our ideathons?

It really helps me think outside the box and see what opportunities are out there. From an international perspective, I draw from the inspiration and bring it back to my day-to-day work as well. Since I work for one of the biggest organizations in the world, exposing myself to different global problems and solutions helps with my job and career development and for me, that’s very valuable.

Focusing on the inspiration and ideas, which pitch stood out most to you and more importantly, why did it stand out to you?

The most memorable solution for me was by Team SaveMoney. Their solution helped restaurants find a reliable local supply chain, which in turn, also opens credit related insurance opportunities. It was a very creative idea that not only fit with the theme of reducing ecological footprint, but also it created product opportunities for the insurer. The possibilities are limitless; it can apply to different cities and different countries, and I appreciate that kind of out-of-the-box thinking.

Reflecting on your entire experience at our ideathons, what are three pieces of advice that you can offer teams looking to win next year?

From a participant’s lens, as long as you improve your innovation skills by going through the process, it is already a win. To get the most out of the event, be open-minded and be prepared to work hard, because it isn’t easy. And lastly, set up a team with diverse backgrounds and skillsets, because this will maximize the chances of coming up with a more creative idea.

Final question: How can an event like SummerHack help #MakeInsuranceBetter for everybody in the global community?

It gives us an opportunity to challenge our own ways of thinking and to open our minds to new ideas, such as new forms of risk, new solutions, or new operating models that perhaps we had never thought of before. I often think about this; Instead of letting tech giants disrupt our industry, why don’t we reinvent ourselves? Why not disrupt ourselves? So, this event is great because sparks ideas to solve our own problems in the industry.

Si, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and valuable advice with our community. We wish you all the best with your venture and we hope to see you again at SummerHack 2022!

Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs [Part 7]

We’re excited to continue our series, “Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs”, where Co-Founder Sven Roehl sits down with founders of startups to chat about their exciting solutions and how they’re on track to make big waves in the insurance world.

In today’s blog, Sven sat down with Parloa, the winner of our Startup Pitch Specials: Germany and Beyond event. Founded in 2017, the startup aims to replace old touch-tone IVRs in the call center with a more natural and efficient customer experience across different channels, such as over the phone, on-site chats, and even WhatsApp. The low-code front-end design means insurers do not need data scientists, machine learning engineers, or developer resources to leverage the Conversational AI solution.

Check out what we learned about Parloa below!

Check out a clip from the interview!

How It All Began

Almost 5 years ago, the founders were fascinated by voice assistants Alexa and Google Assistant and their ability to interact with humans. Immediately, they knew that something big was happening and wanted to be a part of the change. They founded one of Europe’s first Conversational AI agencies, called Future of Voice, to work with clients to build voice interactions using those voice assistants. Within the first 2 years, they recognized 2 major challenges:

1. No low-code tool existed in the market to help companies build these voice automation experiences

2. Existing voice assistants supported daily tasks (such as to-do lists and playing music), not customer experience functions

The founders subsequently launched Parloa, which uses Conversational AI to enable companies to automate their phone infrastructure to elevate customer experience.

Their Biggest Challenge?

Moving away from voice assistants and towards phone infrastructure — it was also their best decision!

When the team finally found product-market fit, they focused their attention on the next challenge: growing as fast as possible.

So, How Does Parloa Help Insurers?

Up to 40% of a customer service agent’s time is spent authenticating the customer’s identity using details such as birthdates. Within the insurance industry alone, this adds up to 26 million minutes (50 years!) wasted per day.

Parloa gives insurers back their lost time by automating these repetitive tasks and optimizing certain KPIs. Using automated speech recognition and natural language understanding, Parloa empowers insurers to train their models using real-life interactions with customers to create a customer experience that gets better every day. This means happier customers and of course, happier agents!

3 Use Cases for Parloa’s Conversational AI Solution

1. Routing: Replacing old touch-tone IVRs with a more customer-friendly experience and the most intuitive way to express a concern: Speaking

2. Authentication: Give your agents back their time by replacing manual authentication processes with Parloa’s easy-to-use connections to your CRM

3. End-to-End Cases: Whether it’s an address or contact data change, let Parloa handle repetitive tasks so your agents can focus on solving real problems for customers

Bonus: Agents Receive Transcripts of Interactions with the AI

When Parloa routes a customer to an available agent, the agent receives a transcript of the AI’s customer interaction in order to help the agent better support the customer and continue the conversation. This transcript also provides valuable data to continue to train the system for future interactions, so you can rest assured that your customer experience is getting better day after day!

After witnessing Parloa’s much-needed solution in action, we can see why the judges voted for this innovative startup as the winner of our Startup Pitch Specials: Germany and Beyond! We wish Parloa the best as they continue to grow internationally and look forward to welcoming the team back for future events!

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 5]

In the next part of our series, I sat down with Max Bachem, 2-time judge (WinterHack 2020 and SummerHack 2021) and CEO at Coya. We discussed what inspired him to return to our jury panel, why diversity was the highlight of the competition, and his advice for teams looking to win the top prize next year!

Check out a snippet of our interview with SummerHack 2021 Judge, Max Bachem!

Max, thank you for returning as a judge this year! We’d love to know, what inspired you to return, and what do you enjoy most about the role?

I really enjoyed my first time on the panel last year, while I was still at AXA. What was amazing was just networking with all the teams, hearing innovative ideas from across the globe, and being able to discuss new opportunities with people who have a completely different perspective. Often, we might have a local view on a challenge, and it’s great meeting people with different ways of looking at the same problem.

Compared to your experience at WinterHack 2020, what do you think has changed or improved since last time?

The teams were even more diverse this year! Last year, a lot of teams were from Europe and North America, and this year we had people from APAC, EMEA, and the Americas, which I loved. All this diversity meant we had very different ideas on the table this time.

And out of those ideas at the Final Pitch Event, which one stood out to you and more importantly, why did it stand out to you?

I’m very happy for the Winner and the Runner-Up, both of whom had amazing ideas. I have to say though, it was really hard to decide on the winners because there were a lot of amazing ideas. Some were more innovative, and others were more applicable, but I loved all the ideas because they all had an interesting aspect to them. One that stands out to me was a solution from HDI in Germany, which had this tool to scrape social media and stay connected to the customer. Some of the other ideas were very visionary, even ahead of time, but interesting to keep in mind because they might be something to implement in 1-2 years.

After attending the Final Pitch Event and seeing other pitches during your career, what is the best way to create a successful pitch?

The most important thing is to think about the audience. What is the audience interested in? What is the right amount of detail to share? If you create a good story, you can easily hook the audience. During the ideathon, you have very limited time. You may not be able to think through the idea 100%, but it doesn’t need to be fully thought through. Your approach should be “Hey, I have a good base idea, and maybe we need to tweak it a bit afterward, but there is some truth and high potential behind it”, and that will help you convince the judges.

What additional advice can you offer incoming teams for SummerHack 2022?

Just have fun! Sure, you’ll come up with new ideas, but it’s a fun team-building activity and you should enjoy the time you spend exchanging ideas with other people. That would be my biggest recommendation; have fun, because while you’re having fun, you’re probably coming up with great ideas and you’ll make a great pitch at the end.

We’re hoping you had fun as a judge, as well! How would you describe your overall experience at SummerHack?

My own experience was very positive. Both the WinterHack and SummerHack were well-organized! You brought together very diverse teams this year, and it was a pleasure to not only see the ideas, but network with those teams afterwards, as well.

Final question for you: How can an event like SummerHack can help #MakeInsuranceBetter for the global community?

You brought together these diverse teams that likely see different customer problems in their respective markets, whether they’re emerging markets or those that are more developed. These perspectives and solutions can be relevant in other markets or inspire other solutions that you would have never thought were possible for specific markets. These events enable a transfer of knowledge, experience, and ideas that in the end will help to create new, innovative, and better products for customers, which is what we are aiming for.

Max, thank you so much for sharing your insights and valuable advice with our community. We wish you all the best and hope to see you again at SummerHack 2022!

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 4]

In the next part of our series, I sat down with Nicole Schepanek, a SummerHack 2021 judge and Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Aureus Capital. We discussed her experience as a first-time judge, highlights from the global competition, and what advice she could offer teams at SummerHack 2022 to win big next year!

Check out a snippet of our interview with SummerHack 2021 Judge, Nicole Schepanek!

Nicole, thank you for joining us as a judge this year! We’d love to know, what inspired you to get involved with the event?

I really enjoy working with other experts and helping them think about what new ways are to innovate in the insurance industry. It’s at the core of my being. I love when different people from different parts of the industry around the world come together at these events, and that instills the spirit of innovation.

We’re grateful to have had you onboard this year! Not only did you judge the pitches, but you also joined the networking sessions, something new we added this year. What did you enjoy about your networking experience?

It’s interesting to learn more about the different viewpoints that global participants bring to these events, because it leads to fascinating discussions. It’s crucial to understand those viewpoints. We rarely see people working in insurance and those from other industries come together to think over and beyond the insurance spectrum. Too often, the insurance industry thinks within its box, rather than looking beyond. So, I enjoy the diversity and discussions at these events.

Now, coming to your perspective as a judge, what was your favorite solution from the Final Pitch Event? Why did it stand out to you?

All of them were great, to start, and were inspiring on different levels. Foresters really focused on the gig economy, and that’s both a big trend and challenge for us as an industry. I liked that they really put the customer first and thought about the gig workers’ needs. This was one of the more-developed solutions we saw, and they pitched with great spirit and energy when showcasing their solution.

After seeing these 12 pitches and other pitches within your career, what are a few key ingredients to creating a successful pitch?

Tell a story. Explain the challenge, opportunity, or problem you’re trying to solve. Why is it a problem? What’s our USP? Why can we solve it when no one else can solve it? It’s also crucial to think about what it takes to create a network effect and keep customers coming to you, rather than to someone else

What additional advice can you offer teams going into SummerHack 2022?

Focus on the fun! Be natural and enjoy the experience that comes with different viewpoints coming together to refine your ideas. I think it’s a really exciting event, and everyone that participates learns something, but should also enjoy themselves at the same time.

Drawing on your experience as a first-time judge, how would you describe it overall?

It was awesome! A big thumbs up to Cookhouse Labs and InsurLab Germany. What I really liked about it was that people from different dimensions of the ecosystem come together. Everyone is really excited and there is a great exchange of ideas, even beyond the event.

Continuing that thought, how do you think an event like SummerHack can help #MakeInsuranceBetter for everyone?

You bring together folks with different perspectives from the industry, and often they talk and exchange ideas. As an investor, I hear pitches all the time, but it’s very much one-sided. Here, people come together without a specific siloed focus, per se. Through this, we can innovate more openly. As a second step, thinking about the business model in detail and what kind of backing would be best for the ideas is crucial in order to execute them.

Nicole, thank you so much for sharing your insights and valuable advice with our community. We wish you all the best and hope to see you again at SummerHack 2022!

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 3]

Summerhack Winner People's Choice

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the recipients of our People’s Choice — APAC & EMEA title, Team EFU Life. I asked the team about the process of developing their innovative solution and invited them to reflect on their experience and success at the global ideathon. 

Check out a snippet of our interview with People’s Choice Winner, Team EFU! 

Team EFU, first of all, congratulations on winning the crowd vote at SummerHack 2021! Before we dive into how you made it happen, let’s do a quick round of introductions. 

Arshad: Hi everyone, my name is Arshad Iqbal and I’m the General Manager Operations at EFU Life. Apart from running the operations of the company, I’m responsible for the transformation process, including ideas, workflows, and processes. I’m both a lawyer and a business manager. 

Danny: My name is Danny Su. I’m currently student at the University of Toronto, studying Actuarial and Statistical Sciences, and I enjoy hiking lot. 

Ashfaque: I’m Ashfaque Ahmed and I head technology and IT at EFU Life. I manage digitalization processes, keep an eye on industry trends, and am involved in a lot of technology-based initiatives in my company, such as the BLISS (Bio-Metric enabled policy acquisition system), the first RPA in the Pakistani insurance industry, and more. 
 
Sam: My name is Sam Xu and I’m currently in my final year at the University of Toronto’s Statistical and Actuarial Sciences program. I love learning about the insurance industry, and in my free time, I enjoy outdoor activities. 

Jane: I’m Hui Jen Yang and I’m also a final year student at the University of Toronto, where I’m double majoring in Economics and Actuarial Science. I love baking and hiking a lot, too! 
 
Raza: I’m Raza Hasan. By profession, I’m an actuary, and I oversee the group insurance department. Prior to Pakistan, I’ve also worked in San Francisco and Toronto, Canada. I love sports, and these days golf has become a passion. 

Yuqing: Hi everyone, I’m Yuqing Liu and I’m currently in Australia. I’m a first year Actuarial Science student at the University of Toronto. I like to play basketball, bushwalk, and I’m learning how to ski now.  

Thank you for those great introductions! Now talking about the event, what inspired you to get involved and how did your team come together? 

Yuqing: Danny brought us students together! We’re both in the Actuarial Science Club at the University of Toronto, and we’re so like-minded that we actually reached out to each other to ask if we wanted to be on a team together. We’re very grateful EFU Life chose us to join their team, and it was a great learning experience for us, especially on the collaboration side! 

Raza: Being a tech-driven company, SummerHack itself sounded like a very interesting proposition. We learned more about the event and really liked what you (Cookhouse Labs) were doing. We also felt working with students would be a great experience.  

And was it a great experience? 

Raza: It was intense, but definitely an excellent experience!  
 
Arshad: We really enjoyed how it was packaged and organized. Everything from the creation of the ideas to the execution was amazing. 
 
Ashfaque: This was the first time that we were involved in something like this. It was organized well, and it was a great learning experience for us, especially because it was hosted virtually. 

We’re happy to hear that! Staying with the theme of things being virtual, we know that EFU Life was able to sit together and ideate, but the rest of your team is actually in several different countries and time zones! How did you all work together and overcome the time difference to create your solution? 

Jane: Good question! The first thing we did was to brainstorm together, and soon we had a general idea of what our solution would be. Afterwards, we split the work up and scheduled regular meeting times, so our teammates were able to work in different time zones and no one had to stay up late to work on the solution. We all did our parts of the project and then met to prepare the pitch video. Communication, respect, and teamwork are so important, and since everyone on our team is considerate and proactive, we were able to efficiently develop our solution despite the time difference. 

We love that kind of collaboration! We love it when there are different perspectives on a team, and everyone finds a way to work together. Speaking of perspectives, we have quite a range of experiences on this team, from first year students to industry veterans with over 20 years of experience. How did you harness these diverse experiences when creating your solution? 

Yuqing: We all come from different cultural backgrounds and have different levels of engagement in the insurance industry. Personally, I’m a first-year student and EFU Life is full of experienced insurers, and our other teammates have already participated in similar events, like the StudentHack. The big advantage for us is diversity, and for us that means creativity and being able to learn from each other. I learned how insurance companies operate and how getting involved in more industry events will help shape my future as an actuary. 

Arshad: We were lucky to have such great students and energy on our team, and we weren’t expecting that. Even at midnight, they were working on the solution as if it was daytime. Based on the input we received from them, you would have never guessed that they were students!  

Ashfaque: The coordination and level of communication was amazing. We broke the ice within minutes of meeting them, and as soon as we started working together, it didn’t feel like we were working with the students for the first time. Once you have a great team, the ideas just flow, and we got fantastic support from the students on our team. 

That’s often the toughest part of working virtually — to meet somebody for the first time and instantly have that level of communication, understanding, and respect, so congratulations on achieving this! Coming to how you worked together, which of the four challenges did your team select and what was your solution? 

Raza: Our challenge was to develop a solution to cater to the underserved population. Our solution was “Bread Protects”, and it comprised of 2 parts. The first part aimed to spread insurance awareness using a drone that would target specific underserved populations by sending customized messages to their smartphones, and those messages would contain insurance information, videos, and promotions. The second part linked that promotion to bread, a staple for every family. By making frequent bread purchases, underserved populations could get free life insurance coverage. Premiums would be funded by bread companies, whose objective would be increased sales of their product. It’s a win-win-win solution for the consumer, insurer, and bread company.  

Very cool idea! “Bread Protects” was voted the People’s Choice for APAC and EMEA. In your opinion, what aspects of this solution made it a crowd favorite? 

Raza: Drones! The fact that drone advertising is a fairly new and exciting concept resonated with the audience.  

Arshad: The best part was definitely the drone being used for something constructive and positive. 
 
Ashfaque: It’s a new concept, and we found value in it. One, because of the low-cost advertising and two, there is a huge reach.  
 
Sam: Anyone can look up at the sky, but not everyone has great internet coverage, so it was definitely the broad reach.  

Yuqing: The ‘bread’ part is very cool. We wanted to make it fun but also send a message that insurance can be protective, for example, by printing informational stickers to add with the bread. You can feed your family and still protect them, instead of just paying premiums. It makes the concept less terrifying and increases the penetration of insurance to underserved populations. 

Jane: What Yuqing said is true. Bread is something people buy every day, so it engages them, and the drone works well to attract attention. 

It was a very well-thought-out solution! Looking back at the entire experience, how would you describe it? 

Danny: My overall experience at SummerHack was amazing because we, as a team, were encouraged to come up with crazy and creative ideas, and that’s how innovation is born. I see ideas as Lego bricks, because when you put yours out there, someone else could pick it up and build a spaceship, a rocket, or even a castle. And I had a really great time working with my team because they were so supportive, and we had a very strong team spirit. It was fun! 
 
Yuqing: This is my first time participating in SummerHack. I’m really grateful to have worked with such a supportive and professional team. 
 
Ashfaque: As I mentioned earlier, the whole process was digital, and it was new for us. We picked up a lot of tools during the Design Thinking breakout sessions and the experience was fantastic. I’ve been working for the past 20+ years with insurance companies to digitalize them and introduce new technology, but to ideate digitally was new for me, as well. 
 
Raza: The opportunity to see different solutions from all over the world was pretty cool. It gives you insight into how other people think and what issues they’re working on. 
 
Sam: It’s one thing to learn the technical side of insurance in school and it’s another to be in this massive ecosystem, collaborating and developing innovative solutions with professionals in the industry. I was happy to work alongside with them to see how wild ideas can be incorporated into an actionable plan. I enjoyed that and it was awesome! 

Now that you’ve been through this process, what advice would you give teams coming in next year? 

Raza: Probably not to underestimate the work involved and the intensity of the challenge. Oh, and have lots of caffeine, that helps! 
 
Arshad: You should have a bunch of crazy ideas and not limit the thinking process. That’s how you become more creative. 
 
Ashfaque: You need to be committed. It’s difficult to participate alongside your everyday work activities; you need to step away from work to focus on the process. There are a lot of ideas that need to be developed into a solution. There’s a lot of learning involved, so you need to be committed.  
 
Sam: And for the incoming students who will hopefully be attending this event next year, I would say don’t be shy to speak up. Sometimes great ideas are hidden when you don’t speak up, and you never know how much impact your ideas are going to have, especially for students.  
 
Danny: Have fun! It’s a really great event. 
 
Yuqing: Danny said this to me, too. The main point of this event is to have fun and I did have a lot of fun. Hello to all the incoming students, and my advice to you would be test out the tools and platforms before the event starts. Once you dive into it, you won’t have the energy to learn how to use them and if you get stuck, it can be very stressful.  
 
Jane: All crazy ideas are acceptable at SummerHack. Your idea could be the winning idea! 

We can’t wait to share this advice with next year’s teams! Final question for the team now: As you know, Cookhouse Labs is all about making insurance better and that’s the objective of these types of events. So, in your opinion, how can an event like SummerHack help make insurance better for the global community? 

Raza: Innovation is something every insurance company needs to be conscious of, especially in the digital age that we’re in. I think events like SummerHack provide the inspiration and motivation that we all need. We get too caught up in our daily routines, so SummerHack was the right thing at the right time. 
 
Arshad: The way that insurance is being sold today should not continue. We all know we need to transform. SummerHack is a good platform for us to share our experiences and decide how we should transform, and everyone can benefit from this.  
 
Ashfaque: In our region, insurance digitalization is very limited. We’re one of the top innovative insurance companies in our region. We took a lot of value out of this experience, and it definitely helped us. I encourage other insurance companies in our region to get involved and see how digitalization can help improve processes here in Pakistan.  
 
Danny: As an aspiring actuary, SummerHack is where I realized how actuaries can help the underserved population. In the past, I always wondered how to help people with low income, because I thought that insurance was only for the people who could afford it. SummerHack is where I found the answer because it’s the actuaries who execute those crazy ideas that we came up with. 

With Bread Protects, you’re on your way to increasing insurance access for underserved populations and finding ways the industry can provide the right support. Congratulations once again, Team EFU Life, and we can’t wait to see where you take this solution in the near future!